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Investors Rattled As President Trump's Trade War Heats Up Again


There weren't a lot of champagne corks popping on Wall Street today. Major stock indexes fell sharply amidst news that the price of champagne and other French imports may soon be going up. The Trump administration is threatening new tariffs on French bubbly and cheese and other products. And that's just one of several new fronts in the president's wide-ranging trade war, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Investors who've been hoping for a holiday reprieve from trade tensions are suddenly worried there may be no Christmas truce. The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 280 points today after President Trump suggested even a mini-trade agreement with China could still be a year away.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: In some ways, I like the idea of waiting till after the election for the China deal, but they want to make a deal now. And we'll see whether or not the deal's going to be right. It's got to be right.

HORSLEY: Speaking to reporters at the NATO summit in London, Trump said he has no deadline for reaching an agreement with China, but others are urging the president to make a deal as quickly as possible.

David French of the National Retail Federation says the trade battle with Beijing is already hurting U.S. farmers and manufacturers. And in less than two weeks, a new round of tariffs is set to hit popular consumer items, including cellphones and laptop computers.

DAVID FRENCH: And the longer these tariffs stay in place and the more uncertainty is baked into the system, the harder it is to keep the consumer from feeling the full brunt of the pain.

HORSLEY: With China talks up in the air, the administration is also threatening a new tariff battle with France. Trump complains that a new French tax on digital advertising unfairly targets U.S. tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Amazon.


TRUMP: They're American companies. I'm not going to let people take advantage of American companies because if anyone's going to take advantage of the American companies, it's going to be us.

HORSLEY: In retaliation for the French tax, the administration has proposed tariffs on nearly 2 1/2 billion dollars' worth of French goods, including champagne and blue cheese. Those tariffs could run as high as 100%.

PHILIP MARFUGGI: That would be devastating.

HORSLEY: Philip Marfuggi is president of the Cheese Importers Association of America. France sells nearly $200 million worth of cheese to this country each year. Marfuggi warns, if the price of that cheese doubles because of a tariff, a lot of the market would dry up, and a lot of U.S. jobs could be lost.

MARFUGGI: It's a trickle-down effect. You got the truckers bringing the product in from the ports. Then you have cutting and wrapping facilities. Just because we import European cheeses - we're all American companies. I mean, my company's been around for 98 years.

HORSLEY: Marfuggi says it's hard to understand why American cheese sellers should pay such a price to defend the profits of tech giants worth billions.

If that's not enough, the administration said this week its earlier tariffs on European exports could go even higher. And just yesterday, Trump ordered new import taxes on steel and aluminum from Brazil and Argentina.

SCOTT LINCICOME: We've really come to this point where the president has the tariff hammer, and all he sees out there is nails.

HORSLEY: Veteran trade lawyer Scott Lincicome says while the administration has repeatedly used tariffs to bring other countries to the bargaining table, it's yet to produce a major trade deal. And the cost of the levies is largely borne by American businesses and consumers.

The proposed tariffs on champagne and French cheese are still at the threat stage and could give way to a negotiated settlement. Despite his tough talk early in the day about the new French digital tax, Trump sounded more conciliatory when he met one on one with French President Emmanuel Macron.


TRUMP: We have a big trade relationship. And I'm sure that within a short period of time, things will be looking very rosy, we hope.

HORSLEY: Until then, no one is drinking any champagne toast to a trade truce.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF LORDE SONG, "THE LOUVRE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.